Prather’s Pick: A hilarious book for young adults
August 12, 2014
I've been a fan of Gary Paulsen's books for years. If I counted the titles of his works, listed inside his newest book, correctly, he has written about 53 books, mostly for young people but some fiction and nonfiction for adults — and some picture books besides.
"Family Ties: The Theory, Practice, and Destructive Properties of Relatives" is his most recent work. This absolutely hilarious book, probably intended for middle school readers, is this week's Prather's Pick. The book is published by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books (2014).
The book is a companion for four other titles, all about the same leading character, Kevin Spencer. Kevin's family is made up of Dad, Mom, Daniel, Sarah and Teddy the cat. Auntie Buzz lives in the apartment over their garage. Kevin claims that he's the leader of the family, the member of the family who keeps it all together. (Dad and Mom may not agree.)
Besides his family, Kevin's mind is on his Katrina M. Zabinski, the Most Beautiful and Best-Smelling Girl in the world. Kevin and Katrina have had two dates, if you can call them that, because one was when they met at a neighbor's party and the other was when she came by to help Kevin when he ran for class president.
Kevin sits behind Katrina during one class and spends his time collecting the strands of her hair as they fall onto her shoulder. He keeps them in an envelope made from lined paper and plans to keep the hair in a fireproof and waterproof safe. Other than that Kevin occupies his time trying to decide what to do on their "technically third/officially first, mind-blowing, history-making date."
It's all pretty complicated, but Kevin's life gets even more complicated one Sunday night when Uncle Will shows up. Will is Dad's younger brother, and the two of them haven't been speaking since the last time Will visited. That's when Will ran his car through the garage door and got arrested and some other things. Kevin did not expect his uncle to show up after emailing him this very morning. He just suggested that Will get in touch with Dad to end the no talking situation.
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Uncle Will isn't alone. It seems that he has married Brandee and she has a son, Larry, who goes by the nickname Sparky since — at 4 or 5 years old — he has gotten into starting fires. And that's not all. They have a Great Pyrenees dog named Athena (that Kevin thinks looks like a polar bear) with a bladder infection.
Kevin may be in charge, but in the first moments that Uncle Will arrives, the mailbox is torn off the side of the house and a flower pot is smashed flat. Teddy the cat falls in love with Athena, scaring the dog, and the umbrella stand falls over, knocking pictures off the wall. When Sarah notices that Sparky is trying to start a fire, she tackles him, knocking over Mom's china cabinet filled with cups and saucers. Then Auntie Buzz smells smoke, and grabs the fire extinguisher.
Uncle Will and Brandee decide to renew their vows so Grandmother Lucille shows up and later Grandfather (Papa) and his girlfriend Lola who was a Vegas showgirl "a million years ago." They all stay at the Spencer's home, and Kevin has plenty of "leadership" challenges. Athena has a surprise for everybody, too.
This is a funny, funny book — Paulsen at his best. "Family Ties" costs $12.99 in hardcover or you can find the book, shelved with new juvenile books, at the Moffat County Library.